Rewinding through 2015

By PENNY FLETCHER

Mitch Traphagen photo.

Mitch Traphagen photo.

In January, more than 7,000 people turned out for a sneak-peek at St. Joseph’s Hospital South in Riverview, which opened in February with its 112-bed, $237 million, 360,000-square-foot structure just off Big Bend Road in Riverview.

Also early in 2015, 250 Sun City Center volunteers packaged 54,000 meals in conjunction with Meals of Hope, a 501(c)3 organization that serves the underprivileged. The “meals” effort was sponsored by the SCC Rotary Club, aided by many other individuals and organizations.

Later last winter, the Sun City Center Ace Hardware, which had been a landmark in the area for more than four decades, closed. This came about the same time plans were first announced for an 80,000-square-foot movie theater with 14 state-of-the-art screens to be built on Gibsonton Drive. The theater was originally set to open sometime in 2015, but opening has since been pushed back to spring 2016.

In early spring, Sun Towers Director of Admissions Debbie Caneen took part in the “invitation-only” White House Conference on Aging. It’s an event that happens only once every 10 years and, in 2015, it was geared to preparing the nation and its economy for the huge baby-boom generation now moving into retirement.

By April, plans to dredge the canals and put the sand where it would “bring the beach back to Apollo Beach” were announced by the Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group, an all-volunteer organization that responds each time that community canals need dredging. This time, the project plans show putting the dredged sand onto an area of Apollo Beach on the northwest side of the Nature Park, where the land had suffered major erosion, resulting in a disappearing beachfront.

Mitch Traphagen photo.

Mitch Traphagen photo.

Before spring ended, it was announced that Mickey and Priscilla Mixon, owners of The Observer News, The SCC Observer and The Current — the only locally owned newspapers covering south Hillsborough County — had sold their interests to David Payne and Wesley and Karina Mullins. Wes Mullins had been that company’s CEO for more than 10 years, and Payne had come to the company six years previously from a 29-year career at The Bradenton Herald.

Shortly after that, Observer News reporter Kevin Brady shared his childhood experiences in a documentary about Project Children, a program that he took part in when he came from war-torn Belfast, Ireland. Brady described being a “test subject” as one of the first six children brought to the United States to live with a combination Catholic-Protestant host family after what he described as a “hot” 30-year war had settled into what he called a “cold peace.”

April saw a changing of the guard in Sun City Center, with Deputy Jeffery Merry taking over the post of that community’s resource deputy. Before joining the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in 2011, Merry was a white-collar-crime detective in Georgia and right away, he began putting that experience to work with “safety seminars” for seniors.

In May, more than 100 people representing about 30 groups met in Sun City Center to decide how they could work together to meet the needs of South County residents, needs that agencies weren’t satisfactorily meeting. Food and transportation seemed to stand out as having the biggest gaps. Church leaders, volunteer emergency-response teams, mental health groups and agencies assisting the victims of domestic abuse were among those who participated and identified these needs by using data from questionnaires that would also be used in future meetings.

An artist’s rendering of the new-look South Bay Hospital.

An artist’s rendering of the new-look South Bay Hospital.

At the same time, The American Addiction Center opened a branch in Riverview, helping to serve the needs of drug and alcohol addicts and their families. Also in May, The Hope Fund implemented several new programs for children who use the Bethune Park in Wimauma.

In June, South Bay Hospital broke ground on a $30 million renovation project that is still in progress. A new 30,900-square-foot patient tower and renovation of public areas and existing patient-care units are all part of the work going on behind the construction barriers.

The expansion will increase the beds from 112 to 138, include a 14-bed Progressive Care service and 12 additional intensive care beds on the second floor. Management said the new areas have been designed to accommodate future expansion and even more beds.

Meanwhile, spring brought graduations at all three of South County’s high schools.

East Bay High School Class of 2015 Valedictorian Ashley Privette with East Bay Principal Maria Gsell. Privette is graduating at the top of her 492-student senior class. Mitch Traphagen photo.

East Bay High School Class of 2015 Valedictorian Ashley Privette with East Bay Principal Maria Gsell. Privette is graduating at the top of her 492-student senior class. Mitch Traphagen photo.

The new Science and Technology Center at the SouthShore campus of Hillsborough Community College. Penny Fletcher photo.

The new Science and Technology Center at the SouthShore campus of Hillsborough Community College. Penny Fletcher photo.

Alondra Soto graduated from Riverview High School’s class of 525 students June 2 with a 7.37 GPA, the highest GPA since the school opened in 1998.

Ashley Privette was East Bay High School’s valedictorian in a class of 492. Dominique Montrose earned that honor at Lennard by accumulating two years’ worth of college credits before her high school graduation.

In August, a 36,000-square-foot Science and Technology Center opened at Hillsborough Community College in Ruskin. The ultra-modern building has labs partly designed by the professors who use it, which added flow and safety to the project, according to Academic Dean Craig Hardesty.

Meanwhile, also in Ruskin, Gannon University, a Catholic institution dedicated to the liberal arts, held an open house hosted by its president, Keith Taylor.

As summer ended and fall approached, Hydro Harvest Farms in Ruskin gave back to the community by offering 50 percent off to struggling families; local schools enlisted senior citizens as substitute teachers; and the SCC Kiwanis Club changed its name to the Kiwanis Club of SouthShore/Sun City Center and stated that “this expands its mission.” Children have always been Priority One with Kiwanis members, who host Terrific Kids programs in all 11 elementary schools in South County.

In September, Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa Bay made its South County debut with meals served at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Sun City Center; the Alzheimer’s benefit concert held two shows because last year’s was such a hit and, as predicted, this year’s production, Broadway Buffet, was packed with standing-room-only at each show.

In October, more than 100 volunteers from South County churches united to participate in CareFest by painting, cleaning up gardens at schools, and repairing plumbing for individuals and families pre-selected by a group made up of persons from all over the area.

Competing in this year’s Senior Games in Pensacola, Ted Riley earned first-place medals in the 200-yard Freestyle; 100-yard Breaststroke; 100-yard Backstroke; and 100-yard Freestyle.

In November, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chaplain Doug Gilcrease, offensive tackle Demar Dotson, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy took time out of their busy season to talk about faith and football at Riverview High School. In Ruskin, the 27th Annual Seafood and Arts Festival kicked off at E.G. Simmons Park.

All over South County, the arrival of snowbirds turned 20-minute commutes into an hour — but businesses profit, and shoppers abound and more than 1,000 attended the recent Christmas tree lighting at Winthrop Town Centre.

For several months, The Observer News has been following a story about a legislative action, which took place in 2011, that dropped rules formerly placed on land developers. Four installments of the story have so far revealed that because of the changes, developers do not have to pay for road improvements, parks, schools and other facilities for which they used to be responsible. How this story will play out in the future remains to be seen as we enter the New Year.

And that about wraps things up.

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